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Love At First Sight
(a.k.a. Love Is Blind)
(1977)

Director: Rex Bromfield  
Cast:
Dan Aykroyd, Mary Ann McDonald, Jane Mallett


If you are a regular reader of The Unknown Movies, you no doubt know that at the beginning of my reviews, I often like to talk a little about a subject matter related to the movies that I am about to review. And when I do so, I often try to add a little humor to liven up my writing and to entertain my readers. But in the case of the movie I am reviewing here - Love At First Sight - I feel I have to tread a little more carefully than usual. That's because the movie concerns itself with a subject that is very sensitive - disabilities. In these politically correct times, you have to watch yourself when you bring this subject up. For example, let's take a common faux pas many people make when they discuss people with disabilities, one that I've personally heard several times myself. People say that people with disabilities are "brave". While I suppose that could be argued for people who were once full-functioning, and then because of disease or accident got a disability and subsequently had to make an effort to function in life despite it, what about all those thousands of disabled people who were disabled right from birth? They have lived with their disability right from the start, and have built a life over the years where they can function despite their disability. I'm not sure if there is any "bravery" in cases such as those. They don't know what it's personally like to live a life without their life-long disability. Sure, they can observe the full-functioning people around them and get some sort of clue as to how those people live, but it's not the same as actually living such a life.

Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if I had a severe disability like having to get around in a wheelchair. While I might have given myself a stable life had I been born with such a disability, personally I don't think such positive thoughts when thinking about if I got a severe disability at this point in my life. For example, if I lost my hearing, my main way of receiving communication from people in my life would be cut off. Learning sign language and lip reading would help, but the disability would be a great inconvenience, especially since most B movies are not close-captioned on TV or on DVD even in this day and age. But it would be even worse if I were blind. I must make a confession - this is one of the potential disabilities that I most dread the thought of. Every so often in my life, I test myself by closing my eyes and trying to get around in the location I happen to be in at the time. I have to admit that when I do so, I can only last several seconds before I can't take it anymore and I have to open my eyes. Sight is very precious to me, and I can't picture in my mind how I would live a life without the power of vision. Part of my inability to not comprehend how I would live a life if I were blind probably comes from the fact that I haven't come across, at least in real life, all that many blind people. When I was in seventh grade, there was a blind girl in my class, though I never really got to know her due to the fact that her lesson plans were different and she didn't interact with the rest of the class that much. The only real direct interaction I've had with a blind person was one day at my job when a blind man came in and I helped him around the store to find the items he wanted to buy. He was upbeat and talkative despite his disability, which was nice to observe, but that brief meeting wasn't enough to convince me that I could be the same in his shoes.

So as you can probably guess that whenever I see a depiction of the blind in television shows and movies, there is some added extra interest for me. I want to learn how blind people manage to function in this sighted world of ours. That is one reason why I was attracted to the movie Love At First Sight, because the events of the movie are centered around a man who is blind. But there Love At First Sightwas some added interest to the movie. The most intriguing aspect about the movie was that it promised to be a comedy. When you think about it, blind people in movies and television shows are almost always depicted in a straight fashion. This promised atypical viewpoint intrigued me. Another reason the prospect of watching the movie interested me was that it starred Dan Aykroyd in his very first feature film. It's a Canadian film, by the way, and one of the rare ones that isn't reluctant to set its story in Canada. The exact setting seems to be the Canadian province of Ontario, and in the first few minutes we meet the character of Shirley (McDonald), a young woman who doesn't seem to be actively searching for love but stumbles upon it anyway. While window shopping at an antique store, Shirley meets Roy (Aykroyd, Ghostbusters), a blind man who works at the store. When he accidentally breaks some of the antiques while trying to sell them to Shirley, Roy is fired. Shirley walks Roy home, and on the way they get to know each other. In a matter of hours, Shirley has fallen for Roy, and Roy feels fondly of Shirley as well. A relationship starts between the two, and eventually Shirley decides to introduce Roy to her parents. But when she does, she finds out her father (George Murray) is adamant that his daughter won't have a relationship with a blind man. Shirley's grandmother (Mallett), however, sees that her granddaughter is happy with Roy, so she gives them some money so that they can run away together. They head to Niagara Falls, not knowing that Shirley's father is determined to find them and break them apart.

After watching Love At First Sight, and before sitting down at my desk to write a review of the movie, I did some research on the movie. Specifically, I looked up other reviews of the movie to see if the people who wrote the reviews brought up the biggest problem I had with the movie, and their opinion of it. To my surprise, not one of the reviewers mentioned this big problem. So I guess it's up to me to put a spotlight on the biggest problem of the movie. And that problem is that the movie quite possibly has the most blatant product plugs I've ever seen in a movie, even more blatant than what's found in your typical Adam Sandler movie. It's just for one product - Kentucky Fried Chicken - but the movie is relentless with its plugs for it. Shirley's mother is an employee of a local KFC. In another scene, a radio playing in the background plays a commercial for KFC. Later, as Shirley and Roy are on the highway headed to Niagara Falls, they drive by a KFC restaurant. Shortly afterwards, when they reach Niagara Falls, they drive by another KFC restaurant. Later, they dine on food from KFC, commenting as they eat how good KFC chicken is. Near the end, when Shirley asks an old man for directions, the old man playing the part appears to be the real Colonel Harland Sanders, complete with his trademark white suit! Yes, I have a good idea as to why the movie is filled with plugs for KFC. The typical Canadian movie of the time more often than not had problems with financing (understandable, considering how bad and uncommercial most of them were), so the filmmakers of Love At First Sight likely had to include all this advertising so that there was enough money to complete the movie. But as you've probably guessed, all this advertising is not only distracting, it's downright silly - and not silly in an entertaining way.

With my revelation that Love At First Sight is filled with blatant product plugs, you might be tempted to conclude that the rest of the movie is not that well done. But I have to admit that the movie has some charm as well as a few other positive elements. For one thing, the acting by the no-name (and pre-fame) cast is pretty good. Among the supporting cast, Jane Mallett almost steals the show in her small role as Shirley's grandmother, acting amusingly senile half the time but warm and sympathetic in the other half. As for the two leads, the casting director made the right choices for each role. Mary Ann McDonald, in her only feature film to date, finds the right tone to play Shirley. She doesn't make her character super smart, sometimes giving her character a somewhat naive mentality, but for the most part that's okay - she's ordinary, like many of us in the audience. Her attitude is one we can relate to, and we like her. Dan Akyroyd, on the other hand, gives a performance that breaks many ideas we might have of the blind. He's cheerful, upbeat, and has a good amount of smarts to make up for his handicap. When he and McDonald are paired in a scene and are talking to each other about themselves, the movie has what many other romantic movies are lacking - chemistry. In these scenes, they become not only real in front of our eyes, but a couple that we hope very much will find happiness in the end. These sequences are the strongest in Love At First Sight, but what is really odd is that writer/director Rex Bromfield didn't seem to realize this. In the first part of the movie, there are not enough scenes of the two characters getting to know each other, so when Shirley declares she's falling in love with Roy it doesn't seem right she fell in love so soon. And in the second half of the movie, when Shirley and Roy run away, there aren't that many scenes of them having deep converstations, which makes it difficult to appreciate their supposed struggle to stay together.

There is another big problem to be found in Love At First Sight. Although the movie declares itself to be a comedy of sorts, I have to admit that I didn't find the movie to be that particularly funny. Oh, there are some comic sequences that I did find amusing, such as the scene when Shirley picks up Roy at his home while her parents are in the back seat of her car. And Roy's confrontation with Shirley's father in the final few minutes of the movie has some chuckles, along with an earlier revelation by Roy as to how he got blind in the first place. Refreshingly, the movie doesn't hesitate to make Roy the butt of a joke, though the instances the movie makes fun of Roy never once feels mean spirited or uncomfortable - the humor is gentle and Roy manages to keep his dignity. But most of the attempts at humor in the movie fall flat. There are some poorly conceived gags, like Roy having a pet goldfish that he doesn't know is dead. (What blind person would ever keep a fish as a pet in the first place?) There are other moments in the movie, like when another blind man passes Roy on the street, that clearly are supposed to be funny but are staged so badly that the scenes look serious no matter what angle you look at them at. And there are attempts at humor that depend on the characters acting like total idiots. For instance, it takes forever for Shirley's parents to realize during their first face-to-face meeting with Roy that he is blind. And Shirley herself occasionally says some dumb things to Roy, like asking if he's scared of heights. Love At First Sight doesn't work overall because of largely lame gags such as those, as well as its often thinly written characters. Still, while watching it I felt enough charm and heart from it to convince me that the idea (though not the execution) behind the movie was sound. I think that if a remake of this movie was green-lit, and enough time was given to developing a competent script, we could have a great romantic comedy on our hands.

(Posted April 25, 2014)

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See also: Breezy, Find The Lady, My First Mister

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